Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
Annunciation to Zechariah
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
We are in a few weeks into the new year as per the Mar Thoma Church lectionary calendar. Again we are almost in the most wonderful time of the year and the happiest season as we eagerly await the Advent of our Savior.
Through readings and sermons, the church prepares the congregations for the birth of the Messiah. In the past weeks, we were reminded of the need to reaffirm our trust in the Lord in the new year. “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal (Isaiah 26.4). Then the other readings called upon us to always focus our attention on the Holy God who sits on the throne in heaven, and his son Jesus Christ, the slain lamb who the father God appointed as the head of the Church.
Then the liturgical call moved on to the renewal and rededication (Hudos Eetho) of the church, the people. To help us reaffirm our faith, the readings also showed how our forefathers, down from Abraham, lived by faith in God even in the midst of adversity and became the Lord’s favorites. We were also made aware of how the miracle of feeding 5000 by Jesus inspired the messianic vision among the people. We were also told that the devil’s schemes are very real and we need to put on the “armor” of God to fight the devil. The lectionary also reminded us that children are gifts of God and they should be nurtured in Christ’s love and faith in him.
As the liturgical cycle is repeated every year, telling and retelling the story of Jesus’ birth, upbringing, public ministry, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension into the Father’s House, the questions may arise: Does not familiarity breed contempt and repetition beget boredom? Neither has relevance here. One generation is supposed to pass the redemption story to the coming generation. Just in case there is a missing link, where parents balk at their duty, which often happens, the repetition of the liturgical cycle in the church will fill the gap and be beneficial to all generations.
A new week in the cycle started with the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to priest Zechariah, a forerunner to the annunciation of the Virgin Mary on Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:5-15). King David had made arrangements for the smooth functioning of the priestly performances in the House of the Lord. He had divided the priests into 24 bodies or courses, and each division has to do a week’s service at the temple by rotation. The system continued for generations. Zechariah was in the division of Abijah and he was doing incense service at the altar when archangel Gabriel appeared to him. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been praying for a child and they became old. It is specifically mentioned that both lived good (righteous) lives in God’s sight and obeyed fully all the Lord’s laws and commands (verse 6). Hence the Lord was pleased with them and sent Gabriel to tell them that their prayer would be answered. Though the couple’s wish was fulfilled, God had a larger plan. He used John the Baptist to prepare the way for Savior Jesus Christ in the wilderness, in his larger plan for the redemption of mankind,
It shows that when we pray for miracles in our personal lives, for our personal benefit, be aware that God will answer our prayers if and when it fits in his larger plan for saving mankind. So while praying for miracles, also be prepared to submit yourself to participate in God’s larger plan. At the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sends Gabriel to virgin Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of Messiah, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy: “Therefore the Lord himself will give a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).”
If God’s larger plan is the redemption of the whole mankind through Jesus Christ, the stumbling block against achieving His plan is the divisions in the church, the body of Christ. In john 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples: “ Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11). He also prayed for unity among his future disciples (the church),: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you (John 17:20,21).
But divisions did creep into the church. It was a vexing problem that had haunted the church in its beginning in the first century, and it still continues, with vigor, even now in this 21st century. Apostle Paul, who undertook the most missionary journeys to establish the church, was heavily burdened with these divisions. He admonishes the church in Corinth: “What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1: 12 and 13).
The same issue propped up in Ephesus. (Today’s portion: Ephesians 4:1-13) If we are “dividing Christ” in the name of church leaders, Paul points to us that the leaders are given/ appointed by Christ himself and he alone gets all the glory. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ It is also Paul’s warning to the leaders of influence, that their call to duty is to unite the body of Christ and not to divide. Paul enjoined all Christians, to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. “
We have semblance of unity through ecumenical institutions like World Council of Churches. But, that is just what it is, just appearance; pretense of unity. Unless the universal church genuinely preaches and practices unity, unless the church grows to be mature enough to embrace each other, and the truth, the body of Christ may not build up and the Kingdom of God may remain a mirage for us; and we will never attain the “fullness of Christ.” So, as the members of the body of Christ, let us all sincerely pray and work for the unity of the now fragmented Church. If the church, the bride, has an identity crises, and her vision and perception of her bridegroom is distorted, how can she prepare herself and be ready for her bridegroom, the Christ, when he appears in the clouds?
Oh God eliminate the current divisions in the body of Christ and give us unity and maturity to be one body (church), where you are the head.
Thought of the Day
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith.”
Abraham Thariath, Epiphany Mar Thoma Church, New York